Sunday, August 31, 2008

Back at Palmer

Lately, I feel like I'm caught in a special kind of twilight zone called Antarctica, or as so many things here depend on the sea, maybe it's better described as getting swept away in currents over which I have no control. Either way, I find myself back at Palmer Station. Not too long after my hasty departure, I found out I'd be coming back. The medevac patient (who is doing well) was taken to King George Island and flown from there to Punta Arenas using the airstrip on the Chilean base. Since we didn't have to cross the Drake, the ship was called back to Palmer for one last scientific voyage. I had mixed feelings about coming back. I had already said an emotional goodbye, and my thoughts had already turned to my traveling days ahead. However, on the positive side, I realized that I had a second chance to enjoy the people and place that I love and to finish up a few things that were left undone. I am now scheduled to leave for real on September 5th.

As for the previously mentioned long line, it was successfully retrieved during my absence due to hard work, perseverance and a 4' chainsaw.

Palmer Station enveloped by sea ice.

The Gould blazing a trail.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Au Revoir to Palmer

Amazingly and with no warning, I am sitting on the Gould getting ready to head North. From my previous post, the long line is no longer my problem (or anyone's as the sea ice may be gone by the time the Gould returns), and I never got to my next long line retrieval shift. As it turns out, there was a medical condition on station, and the decision was made to medevac the patient. Since any trip North and back is at least a 10 day turnaround, they also told everyone who was scheduled to leave on September 5th to pack up and go. So in a frenzy, I packed up my room, hugged my friends, shed a few tears and said goodbye to my Antarctic home of 5 months. Now I return to civilization with slight trepidation. There is no one to cook for me, I won't know the names and personal details of everyone around me, I have nowhere that I need to be and I no longer have an income. However, as we start to sail away from Palmer Station, I know that I have a lot of good adventures ahead of me as South America will become my new stomping ground.

The Curse of the Long Line

Well, the long line is back to haunt us again. I guess it never really left. I just stopped thinking about it as others were working on a solution, and I had no good input. Currently, the line is still laying under the ice, and unless we want to do another Gamage Point port call, it needs to come up so the Gould can tie up to our pier. Unfortunately, pulling the line itself up from the pier is not possible since it would most likely break. It's not a hardy rope. Therefore, the goal is to stay above it as if we were in a Zodiac while hauling it in, and the ice has finally complied by firming up enough that we can now walk out on it.

So yesterday, we started a 24/7 operation of chipping a path through the sea ice and pulling the line as we go. I was on the 2:00-4:00 a.m. shift with Neal and Chris. Geared up in immersion suits and armed with headlamps, we made our way out through some slush and past bergy bits to where the last team let off. As luck would have it, all the power tools (the chainsaws and the auger) were broken, so it was ice picks and manual labor for us. We made some headway in the ice but it really just seemed like a lot of effort for little progress. We'll be out there again today from 3:00-5:00 p.m.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Science at Palmer

Throughout my stay here at Palmer, I've seen several scientists come and go. Some were divers studying benthic communities, while others were researchers studying birds and fish. One science group in particular, B-229, is studying the microbial community and the effect that seasons and climate change have on them. Recently, Kristen, a graduate student working on this project, put together this video depicting the effort it takes to get water samples. It also has some fabulous wintertime shots of Palmer Station and the surrounding area.

To read more about the B-229 research project,
click here.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Gould Saga Ends - Shackleton Style*

With much thought and even more creativity, we finally were able to have a port call with the Gould to exchange people and get supplies. This was no normal port call, however. The ship, as stated previously, could not tie-up at our pier. So instead, a grand plan was hatched and executed.

The Gould went to a hold position at a point close to our station called Gamage Point. From there, it shot off what looked like a rocket but was actually a speedline of rope towards station (as a safety measure, the Gould is required by the Coast Guard to have 4 of these on board). Due to high winds, this had to be done twice as the first speedline went awry. Once the second line was retrieved, it was used to haul over a rope system that was put through a pulley connected to our ballard on our end and then attached to the winch and to a zodiac on the Gould's end. Then, the zodiac was lowered down to sit on top of the sea ice and a clothesline approach was used to pull the zodiac back and forth from Gamage Point several times. It took almost everyone on station to help carry supplies over the somewhat treacherous terrain to and from Gamage Point. Of course, this was all going on during a storm, pelting us with snow at high winds and during darkness as we worked into the night.

Personally, it was one of the most exhausting but most satisfying nights on station. I was cold and wearing a jacket and gloves that eventually soaked through, but we were successful. I was working with great people and helping science. We had mail, milk and yummy fresh food. Also, at one point during the night, I helped assist an incoming passenger, a woman of 68, over the terrain back to station. I can't help but always admire older women who continue to make adventure a priority in their lives. That's the way I want to be when I grow up.

Rope Rocket

Pulley system

Amber and Webster carrying supplies out to Gamage Point in blowing snow

Hauling over people and supplies with the clothesline approach

Manpower waiting to form human chains to move supplies from Gamage Point to Palmer Station

* The Shackleton reference comes from a point in the story of Shackleton's amazing Endurance expedition where after his ship was crushed in the ice, he and his team set off across the ice dragging their lifeboat with them.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Gould Lays in Wait

Day 2 and still no progress on our current situation. The ice has thickened, the long line is still laughing at us from the bottom of the sea, and the Gould is currently in a hold position. To make matters worse, a storm has blown in, bringing with it 30 knot winds and dumping enough snow to cause high snow drifts burying walkways and equipment (including one of our ATV's). Some great minds are batting around ideas to get us out of this pickle, but at this point, the best option may be to wait it out.

On our end, there are people at Palmer wanting to get on the Gould and there are people on the Gould wanting to get to Palmer. We are out of freshies and almost out of milk (eek!). I'm pretty sure there's an avocado over there with my name on it and maybe even a letter from Grandma. I think the only logical thing to do is to call Superman. He would be able to help us in any number of ways. Stay tuned for more updates...

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Latest in Palmer News

We've hit a cold spell here at Palmer station with temperatures hovering around 6 or 7 degrees F. These drafty, old buildings can't keep up, and I'm wearing 2 layers on bottom and 4 layers on top just to work in my office this morning. The Gould is sitting right outside our door, waiting to dock. The water in Hero Inlet and Arthur Harbor has frozen over. This normally wouldn't be a problem for the Gould as it's an icebreaker, but hiding underneath the ice is a long fishing line that was let out by our scientists before the cold spell. The line is now frozen in, and they've been unable to pull it up. The Gould is concerned about getting it caught in their propellers and will not come in any further until it is in. So for now, the Gould is standing by while some solutions are batted around for this problem of the frozen-in long line. I'm thinking that since dropping a zodiac in to help is an impossibility, maybe a sledgehammer and someone wearing an immersion suit may be in order, but we'll see. Stay tuned for updates...

Saturday, August 9, 2008

GSAR Drill

Yesterday, we had what ended up being an awesome GSAR (Glacier Search and Rescue) drill.

Dave, our comms tech, took an early morning walk up the glacier. When he didn't return by his designated time, we tried to contact him on the radio and quickly searched for him around station. When we couldn't find him and he didn't reply back on the radio, the GSAR team was mustered. A hasty team of 3, including myself, went out to start the search. A second team set out about 10 minutes later to offer support and assistance. We found Dave pretty quickly on the glacier itself. In this scenario, he had fallen (losing his radio in the process) and had broken his wrist. The fall took him past the flag line which is outside of the safe zone, so the hasty team roped up and belayed each other out to him, probing for crevasses along the way. Once we reached him, Amber did an awesome job of first response trauma. After Amber stabilized the wound, we walked him back to station as a team, talking to him and hydrating him along the way. A team of two pulled a sled behind in case he got to a point where he couldn't walk himself.

Overall, it was a great drill. Everyone stayed safe, we learned a lot, and communication was good. Plus, it was a lot fun.

Walking the victim back to station.

Paul and the Doc working on the victim in the clinic, though Paul looks like he should be getting his groove on at a club.

Dave, our stoic victim, who did an awesome job staying in character.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Fishing in Antarctica

Over the past few days, I've had the unique opportunity to participate in a fishing cruise aboard the Lawrence M. Gould. With sore muscles and a lightness of heart, I can look back at this moment of my Antarctic experience as one of those great times in my life. Granted, fishing on the Gould was hard work, but it was also very satisfying. Not only did I get to help support science, I also got to work with some amazing people, see some beautiful scenery and say "Hello" to a penguin who decided to swim with us for a bit. I worked the night shift mostly, helping bring in trawls by working the deck winch, sorting through the bounty for fish, and shoveling the rest of the sea creatures back into the murky depths. We also set out pots deep in the water, connected to each other and to the buoys with a miles worth of rope that we later had to painstakingly separate and coil. On our last day out, we drove two zodiacs out into beautiful Paradise Harbor for a very cold fishing experience with rods and reels. Ice Fish (fish that have no red blood cells making their blood white) were our main quarry, and each boat was successful in catching some.

Click here to check out some cool photos